By Sean Tuohy
Few writers can be both funny and thought provoking, but best-selling author Camille Noe Pagán pulls it off with ease and charm. With a strong voice and characters that pop off the page, Pagan brings readers into a well-crafted world where anything can happen.
I was lucky enough to pick Pagan’s mind and find out about her writing process and how to found her own voice as a writer.
Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Camille Noe Pagán: As soon as I could hold a pen! I’ve always loved fiction, but for the longest time being a novelist seemed out of my reach. In fact, I remember attempting to write a book shortly after I graduated from college and quickly realizing I was completely in over my head. So, I put that dream aside, and didn’t really try to write a novel again until around the time I turned 30. That book was The Art of Forgetting, which Penguin published in 2011 and 2012. (I wrote several novels after Forgetting; Life and Other Near-Death Experiences is the fifth or sixth novel I wrote, but the second I published.)
ST: What authors did you worship growing up?
CNP: Definitely Judy Blume; I read everything she wrote. Ditto for C.S. Lewis. Back in the day, The Chronicles of Narnia were the closest thing we had to a Harry Potter series, and I read each book several times.
ST: What is your writing process like? Do you outline?
CNP: I don’t outline, but I do draft a couple-page synopsis (which reads almost like an extended query letter of sorts) around the time I begin a new novel. It’s a process that helps me understand where the book’s going—even if plot points change as I’m writing (as they inevitably do).
ST: Your second novel, Life and Other near Death Experiences, was recently released. Where did this story come from?
CNP: I was on a work trip in California and had taken a break to walk along the shore in Santa Monica. The storyline came to me at once, and I began writing as soon as I returned home.
I’m drawn to stories that explore how humans deal with the inevitable sadness and loss that comes with life. Personally, I deal with grief and pain with equal parts introspection and humor, and I think that’s what you’ll find in Life, and in all of my novels.
ST: Libby Miller is unwavering optimist and then life throws her a sucker punch. Did you have fun with her character? Can any of you be found in Libby?
CNP: I’m much more similar to Libby’s brother Paul, who’s a pessimist and prone to anxiety. But I love writing about protagonists who are distinctly different from myself—it makes for a more creative (and fun) writing process. Of course, there’s a little bit of me in every one of my characters.
ST: What is next for Camille Pagán?
CNP: I try not to say too much about the books I’m writing because I never know if one will “work” until I’m done. But I am halfway through a new novel, and I’m really excited about it; I’m hoping it will be out at the end of 2016.
ST: What do you tell first-time writers?
CNP: Focus on your voice. It took me years to figure mine out—and more time, still, to resist the temptation to write like someone else. But in the end, that’s the only thing that sets your work apart.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
CNP: I’m pretty short—just over five feet tall. I once met a fellow writer (who was not particularly tall herself) at a conference and she looked at me and said, “Wow, your head looked so big in your photo that I thought you’d be taller.” (In response, I mumbled something into my drink and wandered away.) So there you have it, folks. Don’t be surprised if we meet and I only come up to your shoulder.